Benefits and hazards of using stem cells therapeutically

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Being one of the most fascinating area of biology today, research on stem cells is leading scientists to investigate the possibility of cell-based therapies to treat various diseases, which is often referred to as regenerative medicine. However like many expanding fields of scientific enquiry, research on stem cell treatments raises scientific questions as rapidly as it generates new discoveries. In this essay, both potential advantages and disadvantages of using stem cell treatments are discussed with relevant examples, taking into consideration of the ethical issue involved.

Stem cells are types of undifferentiated cells, which are capable of self-renewal, and can be induced to become specialised cells of many types including heart muscle cells, nerve cells and skin cells. There are three types of stem cells, which are Embryonic stem (ES) cells and Adult stem cells and Induced pluripotent stem cells. ES cells are derived from 4-5 days old embryos, which are often donated from IVF clinics, and it is a hollow ball of cells (balstocytes) that made up of two components: trophoblasts, which contribute to development of placenta, and inner cell membrane that can give rise to embryo itself. Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are found in differentiated cells and some can self-renew, become specialised cells (multipotent) while other adult stem cells are only capable of giving rise to one specific cell type. Induced pluripotent stem cells are created artificially in the lab by “reprogramming” a patient’s own cells. iPSCs can be made from readily available cells including fat, skin and fibroblasts.

Since these stem cells can be stimulated to differentiate into a wide range of different, mature cell types, these cells have great potential for therapeutic benefits such as cell based regenerative therapies and drug testing. The use of these cells could radically alter the prognoses of patients with a wide range of long-term, serious medical conditions – stem cells could offer cures for some such conditions(type I diabetes mellitus; Parkinson’s disease), whilst current therapies only really address the management of symptoms.

Critically evaluate how our knowledge of helminth infections has informed research into hypersensitivity

The human immune system has evolved to have appropriate defensive response to various dangerous pathogens while ignoring innocent ones such as helminths. The constant presence of helminth infections is still prevalent in developing countries and it is largely controlled in the developed or western world. It has been proposed that knowledge of the immune system by certain microbes and parasites can prevent in part the development of inflammatory disease.

In particular, the interplay between helminth infection and allergy disorders have been studied in great detail. It has been suggested by Smits et al., in 2010 that helminth-induced mechanisms not only regulate host immunity to the worms, resulting in mutually beneficial environment for survival of both parasite and host, but may also control the development of allergic disease.

Both allergy and helminth infection are linked with raised levels of igE, tissue eosinophilia and mastocytosis and CD4+ cells that preferentially secrete Th2 cytokines; IL-4, 5 and 13. It is suggested that increased an increased level of IgE in asthma in some cases may be due to a faulty IL-4 gene receptor producing mass amounts of IgE and an increase in IgE in helminth may be due to the worm inducing a Th2 response.

Mast cells play a big role in both asthma and helminths and this is due to both the conditions causing a dominant Th2 response. As mentioned earlier, both conditions witness a dramatic increase in levels of IgE which is what causes degranulation of the mast cells releasing many products and cytokines which have their effect in both asthma and helminth.